You don't have to understand the world. You just have to find your own way around in it. - Albert Einstein

Monday, 20 February 2012

of a Day with the Black Dog, and Literary Respite

It's like sinking in quicksand. It only makes it worse, and exhausting, to kick and struggle against it. Better to yield, and sink, and just keep breathing. Eventually, I'll go to sleep, and I'll wake up, and it will be another day. It doesn't feel like this can be true, but I know it from experience, and I cling to that.

The air is heavy as molten lead, movement is like through treacle. Movement hurts. Stillness hurts. Light hurts. Thought hurts. The world is unbearable, both its beauty and its tragedy are utterly heartbreaking. I want to die, I want it so much, more than I have ever wanted anything in life. Or that's what it feels like. I have realised, after many years of such thoughts, that there is actually one thing I want even more, and that is not to disappoint or hurt the people I care about. So I'm still here.

Curled up in the foetal position, whimpering. Tears running down my face. Hungry, but powerless to do anything about it. I just can't deal with the kitchen like this.

There is another way out, albeit a very temporary one. There is a magic window, that I can look out of into another world, a world where my depression doesn't exist. That magic window is a book. A book is so much more than its physical existence, so much more even than the words printed on the pages. There's a whole living, breathing world in there, and I can enter into this world and stay there. In this other world, not only does my depression not exist, but I don't exist. The me that is suffering stays behind while my consciousness is transported to a world of someone else's creation. Books are hugely important in my mental health management. It's a terrible thing when the depression is so chronic that cognitive abilities are impaired, and it's difficult to concentrate, to lift the words off the page and into life. That is a lonely place to be. But I'm not there today. If only I can stay still and quiet, the darkness won't find me, hidden in the pages of a book. This is often how I get through the bad days.

The book I am reading at the moment, and therefore my magic window for today, is The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr, published in 2002 by Random House. It's a biography of Luca Turin, a European scientist whose uncanny sense and knowledge of smell and perfumes took him on a journey that led to a radical discovery - an entirely new understanding of how we smell, how our noses turn a molecule into a smell in our brains. It's very scientifically technical in parts - I wondered if it might not be a bit top-heavy to be a Magic Window book, but actually the author has managed to present even the most hardcore technical details in the same conversational, armchair style of narrative that follows the other aspects of Turin's life. Reading this book feels just like you're sitting with the people involved having an animated conversation. I really understand the way he gets so excited about things he notices, learns or smells. I can be like that myself when I get a bee in my bonnet leading me on some new train of research. Turin himself comes across as quite a dysfunctional, disordered kind of fellow generally - an authentic mad scientist. I find this reassuring in my current state.

Quote of the day - "Remind me to tell you why only manic-depressives can do science properly." - Luca Turin.

I believe there is a purpose to mental illness - the method that Shakespeare noticed in the madness. I might not understand it. It might seem more like a cruel joke on humanity to me. But it's there. The world as we know it, including all the fun and fabulous stuff, wouldn't exist, couldn't exist without the ravings of mad scientists, hatters, moon-addled loons and maroon ladies.

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