Memory

Memory is a funny thing. I write from memory mostly, and it is told as fact. Truth. But it isn’t; it’s memory. I remember things in a subjective way; it’s all from my (sometimes insane) point of view. Over the last 17 years I have created a narrative in my head for how and why things happened to me. Part of maintaining control of my mind is to force it all to make as much sense as possible. A little science, a little faith, and a lot of crafted memory.

I have trouble remembering certain things when I am ill. I have trouble remembering other things when I am well. My brain has two modes–sick and well. I have trouble connecting to both at the same time. When I am sick a flood of memories come back from other times I have been sick–specifically from 2001. I wonder if I have some post traumatic stress from my suicide attempt sometimes. It’s like the lynchpin of my life. Like everything hinges on that one event. I know life doesn’t work that way, but it feels like that.

When I am well, I have trouble empathizing with my sick self. I find it pathetic even though I know it’s an illness. Crafted memories help me more gently see myself. I recognize that the craziest stuff I do is when I am unwell. I’m not pathetic, I’m sick. Sometimes I live in limbo between sick and well. It’s a strange place to be full of tension and struggle. I have trouble sorting my thoughts. Some of my thoughts are good. Others are false. It’s a constant battle to suss through them in order to make decisions on how to act.

For many years I had a very clear story of what happened to me. It had to be tightly put together to send the right message. I still stick to that story, but in reality it is much messier-not wrapped up tight with a bow. There are loose ends that don’t fit into my story. Characters who were very important but I fear telling their part in order to protect their privacy. But when I think of these people and events–the memories that linger on the outskirts of my story–I question my own story as truth. What happened happened–I wouldn’t lie. But even I sometimes forget the truths that I don’t tell. I fear discovering something about myself or my neatly packaged story that I have tried to forget.

I have mentioned several times the collage in my living room. In early 2005 I began work on it, and it took roughly 2-3 months. From ages 17-19 I wrote obsessively. Everyday as I got more and more ill I wrote things down. I saved them as a record of my life and my heartbreak. I used many, many of these writings on my collage. Then I got rid of them. I purged. If it wasn’t on the collage it was gone. This was probably a fine idea. It would have been nice to use for blog posts now, I guess, but it freed me then from reliving that time.

But over the last 6 months or so I have been reading what I can from the collage. I have been reading the stuff I wrote in the 6 months leading up to my suicide attempt. It makes me think more deeply about that time. And the memories! The memories that flood back to me. Things I had forgotten but that I have had hanging in my living room for 10 years. And it makes me think differently about 2001. Like I had forgotten why my heart and mind were so broken. I give a lot of due credit to my depression. My fall was inevitable, I say. No one could have saved me. I still believe that. But I also wonder more about what exactly drove me to try and kill myself (on Valentines Day of all days). I remember many specific things from the days leading up to my attempt. Things that I won’t speak of on the blog. Fights, rejections, misunderstandings. I felt like everyone was leaving me or hated me. I needed to be saved, rescued, and I felt that none of the people I loved loved me back enough to help.

It’s weird. Memory is weird and mine has been changing–missing details are coming together making me think about not only 2001 but also all the years since. It’s like I’ve been carrying around a time capsule and I finally opened it and it tells a different version of the same story. But the nice thing about being a writer is that I do get to craft the truth into the story I choose to tell. I write honestly from my memory, but memory is a funny thing.

UnMerry


Christmas came and went. It was good, I promise. Ada was thrilled. I cooked Christmas dinner and it went wonderfully. Everything was good. And I should feel good, too, right? I feel differently though. I feel both empty and too full.

Holidays are superficially full. I am full of all the stuff–presents, food, merriment. But underneath, I just don’t understand what it means. I get why we have holidays. It is practical. We can schedule time off work, make travel plans. But it feels like an obligation. All this stuff I got my daughter thinking it would bring me joy, when she opened it, is just stuff. The food is gone. The day is gone.

And I’m left feeling empty and dissatisfied. The moment–the good feeling that I anticipate–came without leaving an impression. I felt more moved by the music I listened to while cooking. (Crying while cutting onions only to find it is the song and not the onions.)

I feel like I can’t talk about it. First because it’s so vague. It’s just a tightness in my chest and a mild sadness. A longing for something deeper. Second, there is this desire to be happy especially at the holidays unless you have good reason. I don’t I guess. So I feel lousy about it. I’m letting people down. It’s tiring. It makes it worse. It’s why I’m writing I guess. Hoping it will go away if I voice it.

And it’s worse today. It’s back to the grind already like yesterday meant nothing. And it did. It meant nothing in itself. In a larger context it means something–another year–but there’s little magic in the passage of time.

Maybe it’s the winter–the cold and dark. Maybe I’m lonely. Maybe I’m homesick.

Christmas is over now though. So as it passes away maybe this feeling will ease up. Staying vigilant just in case.

Obscure Emotions


A friend of mine shared a list of “emotions people feel but can’t explain” from dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com, and I really connected with some of the words on the list. Although they are obscure emotions common to many of us, several of them are emotions that I feel very deeply and obsessively when I am depressed. 

Since I have recently been looking at my first two depressive episodes, I thought that I would look at a few words from this list in that context.

An early emotion that I feel but hide when I am getting depressed is “monachopsis: the subtle feeling of being out of place.” Starting in my later high school years and continuing into my first year in college, I pretty consistently felt this way–even on my good days. I felt like a square peg in a round hole, but I thought of it more as having been forced to fit in a casting mold too small to contain me. I felt like I could not happily fit in where I was. I still get this gnawing, dissatisfaction with my life when I am getting depressed. My depression wants me to believe that I cannot fit in where I am–that I can never feel at home.

After months of feeling monachopsis, it increasingly becomes “Nodus Tollens: the realization that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore.” In college, I didn’t know why I continued to live a life I didn’t like. I slowly withdrew to avoid feeling monachopsis but eventually realized that I had lost control and I felt trapped. I saw one or two ways out but was afraid to start fresh on my own, and given my mental state would more than likely continued to deteriorate in any life. But it was the feeling of Nodus Tollens that pushed me over the edge. If I couldn’t make sense of my life then why even try? I gave up trying to feel hopeful. I have felt Nodus Tollens several times in my life. I feel it when I have been depressed for days–when I am starting to lose my grip on reality because of the noise in my head. I feel confused by my life and existence. I don’t understand why I should keep going given how sorrowful it all seems.

When I feel disconnected from my life, I undoubtedly feel disconnected from people in my life. Every interaction feels like ‘anecdoche: a conversation in which everyone is talking but nobody is listening.” During my first two depressive episodes, I thought that my sorrow and pain should be so apparent. I couldn’t hide it. I felt like it should be as shocking and distressing as a giant open wound bleeding all over our interaction. Instead I came across as withdrawn, obsessive, and secretive. When I tried to interact with friends it felt so empty because it didn’t acknowledge the only thing I could care about–my pain and my need for rescue. When I am depressed, I am blinded to everything else. Nothing matters because I cannot experience anything outside of my mental pain. I can’t hear or see anything else. It is nearly impossible to have a normal conversation even with my closest friends and family.

I have some friends who have tried to help me once they saw my sorrow, but when I am deeply depressed, I still cannot connect with them. During my first two episodes, I became so blinded by depression that the people I met who I told about my pain and who tried to help me instead left me feeling desperate “adronitis: a frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone.” I withdrew from my family and friends–the people who already knew me–but didn’t want to be totally isolated. When I met new people who I liked, I wanted to jump in and bare my soul because I was in so much pain that I couldn’t get through the niceties of early social interaction. I became obsessed with knowing people deeply or not at all. I still feel this sometimes when I am lonely; when I feel disconnected from those closest to me I desperately want to connect with someone in an instantaneously deep way. 

This desire coupled with intense loneliness and isolation often leads me to spending most of my time doing “jouska: a hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head.” I often think of it as daydreaming, but jouska is more intense; I find myself doing it without thinking and can lose track of time playing out conversations in my head. During my first two episodes, I felt that if I couldn’t connect in the real world, then I would live in my head. This is both impractical and kind of insane. In my first episode, I stopped eating, bathing, sleeping, working, and socializing. I was either wide awake and in pain or lost in jouska.

I think that this kind of withdrawal due to complex emotions of dissatisfaction and disconnection are pretty clear signs of depression. If your loved one begins to pull away from the world, see if you can gently tease out why. They may feel like their life is off track and living it is just a painful reminder. They may feel unable to engage in normal social situations–needing deeper connection to feel loved and needing release from social gatherings that focus on lighthearted fun. And if daydreaming becomes obsessive, find out why its better than real life. Take time to listen to your loved one. The feelings that come with depression are complex and take time to work through and describe.

All of these obscure, sorrowful emotions aren’t singular to depression, but many of them are extreme when fueled by depression. It is hard to move on emotionally when you feel so deeply. It doesn’t seem right to feel anguish and move on. If you are depressed, know that the depths of your feelings are real. But the worldview they give you is not. Depression feels real and is real, but it blinds you and lies to you. It tells you that emotions like monachopsis and andronitis are truths but they are only emotions, and emotions can change. If you feel tempted to withdraw into your head, consider reaching out instead. Ask for an honest, heartfelt connection with someone you trust–a friend or counselor. Work through these deep, complex, painful feelings. There is more to life than sorrow, even if you can’t see it right now.