[… a short ‘essai‘ at explaining the mind/das Gehirn/l’esprit/de Geest/den Sjel/der Geist…]
The Levellers sang about Zeitgeist…
I want to write about Geist.
Many of the great Creatives (writers, artists, photographers, musicians, chefs…) of our times have suffered from mental ‘illness’…
Burns, Baudelaire, Vian, Van Gogh, John Lennon and most likely Dylan, Shakespeare, Mozart and Beethoven too…
Dealing with mental ‘illness’ is like dealing with the sun or the heat. Sometimes it is just too hot to feel this alive. I am constantly pulling myself back, thinking before I speak or act, holding myself in, conforming, abiding by ‘the rules’ and ‘getting back into my box’ when often I just want to run about naked, screaming into the void… (… a pillow works too…) … and why shouldn’t I?! Why should I smother the creative impulses within my soul?
Luckily I am an intelligent woman and I have learnt to close my eyes, take several deep breaths and return to my cage – ‘normality’ – to ensure that I am ‘accepted’ by my peers and society at large.
Had it not been for my unquenchable thirst for knowledge and my voracious, insatiable hunger to understand WHY I feel the way I do, I would be lying drunk in a ditch gibbering about monsters under the bed, or I would already have stepped off the l/edge… (I have been teetering on the brink several times ; utterly unequipped to deal with my own thoughts and feelings, yet still unwilling to leave…).
So, I developed a coping strategy. I talk. I tell everyone how I am feeling. If someone asks me how I am, I consider the question, take my own sweet time and then I tell them the truth. I tell them “I don’t know…” or “I feel a bit mental today actually”. It makes most people extremely uncomfortable and they tend to flinch, avert their eyes or run away, which is fine as I don’t have a lot of time for most people anyway. In the words of the ornery Dr House ‘everybody lies…’ Small talk is anathema to me.
When I feel an ‘attack‘ coming on … (that’s what it feels like, a physical assault: paranoiaextremeanxietylikesomeoneiscomingtokillyou…!!!!!) … my breathing quickens, my heart starts to palpitate, I break out in a cold sweat, I often cry quietly or sob extremely vocally and, la pièce de résistance, go beetroot and blotchy (always a good look). However, I have learned over time to ‘feel the fear‘ and accept it. Unlike the Balrog, it will pass. It will. It will pass.
I close my eyes and I breathe. That is all. I centre myself, just as Andy* says (he is a great teacher). I go right inside. I tune in to the world and forget about myself. I listen to the small noises surrounding me. I listen to my breathing ; the most natural thing in the world… and I wait.
I wait for my breathing to return to its natural rhythm, I open my eyes, sit quietly for a moment, stretch and go on.
It works. It is the only thing that actually works (for me).
No disrespect to anyone to whom I have spoken in the medical profession (psyche nurses, support assistants, CBT therapists, doctors, GPs…) but honestly the only thing that works and continues to work for me is re-learning how to breathe and doing it for 20 minutes every day.
It is so simple and it costs nothing.
There are around 17 million Americans taking Venlafaxine [a.k.a Effexor] at the moment. That is more than 3 times the entire population of Scotland. Seventeen million people suffering. Right now.
[you do the maths… http://www.drugs.com/price-guide/venlafaxine]
So let’s embrace the crazy! Every single one of us is unique. Refuse to be put in a box and labelled as ‘ill’. Listen to the voices in your head (then tell them to fuck right off). It’s your mind and your choice whether to do what ‘they’ tell you, or not. You have a choice. You always have a choice. To live and act responsibly (and keep breathing) or to give up and lie in that ditch with the monsters. Worst case scenario? Go to bed and wait it out. It will pass.
Sit down, be still, take a deep breath ; then get back up and keep going – one step at a time – because life is so beautiful. It would be a shame to waste it.
*Andy lives here: www.headspace.com
…written by Kate Morvern Reid at Balos on Crete on the 25th of July 2015.