Medicated #001

It’s been a few days since the last post on the topic of my chronic, depressive state and its medication. A few things have changed since then.

My dosage has been doubled, after the doctor found my toleration of side-effects to be adequate. The side-effects that remain, or that have re-emerged with the increased dosage, are expected to wane with continued medication.

Particularly helpful though, has been that coffee has not only lost the metallic taste I’d been tasting these past few weeks, but actually tastes as wonderful as it did when I first got hooked in the 1990s. Notably, this change of taste has occurred with the same brew; same hippy milk; same Demerara sugar; same batch of free-trade Rio Coco and all in the same proportions.

Food in general has improved in taste. In fact, it’s all improved across the board, just by varying degrees – the least, at least noticeably, and the best, well, it’s been incredible.

I’d been wondering why people had been flattering me on my cooking. Meals that I’d considered drab, have managed to elicit praise over the years, and the possibility has occurred to me that in cooking for a depressive with a stunted sense of taste, while not trying to produce something overpowering, may have produced something subtly wonderful – for other people.

The judge is still out on this, mind you.

Sex hasn’t given me an afterglow since 1992, so there may be that to look forward to. In fact, the last time I had afterglow, it was in response to a leg workout in 1993. I’m looking at re-joining gym this autumn, so maybe I’ll get my giddies there as well, or perhaps just instead.

My concentration seems a little partitioned at the moment though. There are things I can read and focus on at the moment, with quite a good deal of clarity, and while I can hold an entire response in my head (to this post and some of the subsequent comments on the MTR defamation issue), point-by-point, I can’t get it out on the page in the same state. I suspect I’d disgrace myself with a word salad resembling the content of the Sokal hoax.

This post I’m writing now doesn’t involve nearly as much interconnected thought, so I can break it down into thought-sized segments without losing track. I make no promises about the proofing.

My sleep is starting to come in less fragmented blocks. Last night was the first night of sleep I’d call ‘normal’; seven hours with one brief awakening. Prior to this, my best night of sleep was broken up into four and two-hour blocks, with a two-hour break in the small hours of the morning I spent doing a few domestic chores. All the rest has been worse, but has followed a steady curve of improvement up until now.

I don’t know if it’s the medication, or the accumulating sleep deprivation I’m yet to catch up on, but I’m yawning an awful lot. This is not to say that this is unpleasant. It’s rather stress relieving actually, if at times a little inconvenient (like now).

A few random observations; stupid people seem funnier and less irritating than before; it’s becoming increasingly difficult to comprehend the logic/motivations behind my past errors of judgement; I appear to have regained a certain amount of dexterity and there’s a lot more spring in my step; I’ve become a poor judge of temperature as my tolerance seems to have increased; I’m more calm at rest, and I’m a lot more photosensitive (sunburn is now easy to achieve with only a little exposure).

With the prospect of my prose changing over this transition, I’m going to try logging my experiences for the next few weeks before reviewing the writing. I may also critique some of my earlier work in light of this changing frame of mind. It could get interesting. It may not. It may be interesting that I thought it could be interesting.

This could all be babble. At least I don’t have cotton mouth.

~ Bruce

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…of black dogs…

I’ll be blunt with the confession; I have chronic depression. I’ve had it for just over twenty years now, going on twenty-two.

There have been ups-and-downs. This past half-year has seen one of the ‘ups’.

No, depression has had nothing to do with the slow blog output, or at least I don’t think so. The past half-year has seen me more lucid and emotive than I’ve been in a very long time, possibly in as long the mentioned twenty, going on twenty-two years.

Why am I mentioning this?

First of all, Rousing Departures serves as a writer’s journal, amongst other things – at least as much for my own benefit as anyone else’s. And it’s in part because of wanting to write, I’ve engaged in protracted ruminations on mood and the like.

Who do I let into the home I write in? Who do I let in my writing area? Are there people who disrupt my state of mind in a way not conducive to writing? What smells/sounds/space/…?

I’ve made a few changes. I’ve ousted a few passive-aggressives, closet racists and self-pitying misogynists, who frankly, in addition to the obvious, really rub me too far up the wrong way to be allowed so close to home. I’ve ousted people who treat my writing space as their entitlement.

Mood was itself, a means to an ends, but now, upon reflection, it’s become more important than that (and in turn, may have more important implications for my writing than I’d imagined).

When you’re in one of the ‘downs’, you can fall into the trap of normalizing things, and just surviving your way through the turmoil. You can lose track of what exactly, it feels like to be unafflicted; convincing yourself you’ve recovered, that you’re restored, when in fact you’ve only had a moderate, partial improvement. Repeat the process, and you can rachet yourself down into a deep low, all while normalizing it.

I fell I’ve fallen into this trap a half a dozen times over the past two decades. The result has been a ‘she’s al’right’, before driving myself into the ground, again, for the nth time. Each recovery incomplete, and each subsequent downward turn starting from a reduced baseline.

It’s a bit of a family tradition on my Father’s side, downplaying medical inconvenience and just making do. Once when my father broke his jaw and had it wired up, he couldn’t wait to recover and eventually took to the wiring with a set of pliers. It was a similar story with the stitches from his vasectomy (this being prior to the use of dissolving stitches).

I’ve taken to myself with a knife before, in the interest of health, and I’m pretty sure a more recent scalpel-plus-sandpaper therapy wouldn’t be covered by Medicare, either.

Having had an unprecedented ‘up’, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to confess I’ve been in progressive phases of denial. Aside from being in a more able mood for confession, it’s a lot like having climbed the side of a steep hill, enabling a view of the topology of my previous mental state.

(The litmus test for reaching these new heights has been the ability to listen to Amy Winehouse, and Dave Brubeck, and feel something. This music couldn’t have resonated with me in say, 2007.)

This isn’t the first time I’ve made any such confession, of course. The difference this time is in the scope. Back in the day, I admitted I had temporary problems associated with unpleasant events – fights, bogan torture, blows to the head, stress, workplace poisoning, etc. All these seemed to correlate with my melancholy (but which caused which, or what caused either or both?)

First I was put on tricyclics, which lasted about three weeks. (Medication this antiquated may give you an idea of the historical length of both my awareness and denial).

Then I was put on an early SSRI. This provided little-to-no benefit, while bringing a lot of side-effects into the mix. It didn’t last, and it has to be said that the projectile vomiting while discontinuing, wasn’t a high-point.

That was then, and we’re here in the now.

When I get in a rut, it’s not like what a lot of people think about depression. It’s not so much that I get sad, it’s more that I become listless, numb and have difficulty concentrating. Not that I’ve ever self-mutilated in this state, I also tend to be overly tolerant of pain and physical damage (I have permanent damage to connective tissue in my right foot, thanks largely to this undue tolerance).

It’s the ability to concentrate that I value the most out of all of this. While I may have long since lost the ability to fall in love, I’ve still had experiences of high mental clarity recent enough to be well remembered and hence desired. Or at least, I still remember enough of these moments to want something like them.

If you’ve been reading my writing for any number of years, you may be familiar with the typographical results of my late night coffee-binges. Lack of sleep and caffeine certainly enters into it, but it’s never been a sufficient explanation for all the malapropisms, or the occasional failures of logic.

It seems I may have normalised the fuzz in my skull just a little too much, for just a little too long.

There have been newer SSRIs released since I was last prescribed, with at least a couple of graduations of improvement. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been prescribed and SSRI released in recent years, and it’s already showing noticeable signs of working. Indeed, this early on, it’s already performing better than what months of what I was prescribed in the 1990s achieved.

This improvement, during a seemingly unprecedented ‘up’.

The results are thus far mixed, being early days. I’m waiting for things to plateau and smooth out. My sleep has been disrupted, and I’m only just starting to show signs of being able to catch up. I’m a little tired writing this right now.

However, in the mornings, I’m no longer groggy at all, and my motivation doesn’t seem to flag as the day goes on. And then there have been moments when my mind feels like a steel fucking trap. Or rather, the love child of a steel fucking trap and a fucking titanium scalpel.

I’m less easily distracted, yet without becoming obsessive. I can feel more than I could a few weeks ago, emotionally and physically, and it’s not too unpleasant.

I can feel the cold on my skin in a way I haven’t been able to in ages. I can feel the chill from a carafe of water an inch away from the back of my forearm. I can feel the breeze on my perspiration, and I can feel the salt water well-up in my eyes when I yawn.

At most, this kind of thing has been information, rather than experience, yet experience I seem to vaguely remember somehow.

The unfolding of these new sensations and feelings don’t, however, stop me from focusing on whatever problem I’m mulling over. I just acknowledge the stimulus out of the corner of my eye, with a smile, while continuing with what I’m doing – it’s no juggling act.

At least, this is when I’m not too tired.

Again, I still have sleep to catch up on, and I’m told things will continue to improve for another three to four weeks before levelling out (all I was looking for was something to ameliorate the next ‘down’ in advance). I’m not sure where I’ll be with any of this in a month, and to be honest, I’m not sure if I won’t revise my judgements on my track record by then. I’m heading up a very steep hill, seemingly very rapidly, so who knows what things will look like from up top?

(If there is a side-effect, and I’m not sure it’s a side-effect, that I want to get over, it’s the change in either my taste in coffee, or in my ability to make it. Every damn coffee these past two weeks has tasted horrible. Maybe I’ll have to revert to Blue Mountain, or Turkish coffee.)

For the sake of consistency, all long-term writing projects are being put on hold as I try to find and organise my writing space anew. I guess in this respect, I am experiencing disruption, although of a secondary nature, and ultimately as a productive process.

I’m not too fussed about the ‘suffer for your art’ nonsense. I’ve never believed it. It’s always seemed to me that suffering’s relationship with creativity is as a side-effect of being sensitive about gaps in the world; gaps that the creative seek to fill in the first instance, irrespective of any suffering. My ‘suffering’, if reflection serves, has at any rate only ever hindered my creativity.

Perhaps if I was going to be made insensitive, to be anesthetized, then I’d worry. But as I’m feeling things more, rather than less, this isn’t the concern. The trick, I think, will be in not forgetting my past with The Black Dog, and thus taking my newfound clarity for granted.

We’ll have to see if and how this alters my prose and argument as things run their course.

~ Bruce

Virtuous hedonism

If I were the kind of guy to worship a God, I’d worship Bacchus. Sundays wouldn’t be spent drinking the communion wine, just wine-wine.

I spent a dollar or two on wine in the second half of the nineties, when my hedonistic streak hit in 1996. More wine that I’ve drunk since the nineties.

I also like a good beer. Brewed more in the nineties than I have since the nineties as well.

Now I average less than a standard drink a day and I don’t think I’ve passed four in a day more than five times in the last ten years. But this isn’t some creeping conservatism on my part. No.

I genuinely don’t enjoy getting plastered. What I enjoy is the slightest, initial hint of alcohol in the system and what the beverage can bring to a social or gastronomic event.

Well considered hedonism wasn’t something I really had at the time. Ad hoc, faux-considered hedonism was. I reached the conclusion first and then engaged in some pretty superficial, instrumental reasoning to distract my executive functions from cock-blocking me.

However, persistent critical faculties and an increase in the myelin sheathing in my frontal lobe (something that finishes developing in the mid-twenties) gradually put an end to this self-deception. There was more to hedonism that just screwing everything in sight and drinking yourself into a stupor and if I wanted to get my head around it, I’d have to start conserving a few braincells.

You’ve been lucky, or living on another planet, or both, if you haven’t noticed that quite a large number of religious people frown on this kind of behaviour. In as far as rampant hedonism can cause harm, I’m sympathetic. The categorical objections, hellfire and brimstone however can go and take a flying leap.

I’ve never been an egoist, it should be said. It’s usually at this point in the discussion, that you’ll (if you are an atheist) have the occasional religionist associate your ethics with that of Ayn Rand. Even if you have more in common with say, John Stuart Mill (a utilitarian and dare I say, an actual philosopher.)

Whenever my pleasure, or the pleasure of my group has been at the expense of others, it’s been as a result of thoughtlessness. This was more a problem in my youth than it is now. That harmful externalities (loud noise past the neighbour’s bedtime and the like) weren’t good things wasn’t in dispute – they just went un-noticed. I suspect that this is the case for a lot of young yahoos.

I’m not selfish with my pleasure. I cook for people, for example. I share creativity in general with the aim of maximising pleasure. Nowadays, I do so with the aim of first avoiding the afore mentioned harmful externalities.

I think a few of Nietzsche’s assessments of the human condition are flawed in these respects. The things that he asserted were life-affirming on a primal level, I’ve never found life-affirming. And I think I’ve been a tad more primal that Nietzsche.

I don’t gain pleasure in subjugating people. I don’t see pleasure in others in being subjugated and I have a visceral objection to seeing other people subjugated – it’s not just slave morality that sees me looking out for others. Not that I deny what Nietzsche felt, rationally I object to it and the animal in me objects to it.

What I think Nietzsche’s error was, was to generalize his own imperatives the way Freud generalized his own sexual peculiarities to the entire human condition. The primal imperatives of the human condition are far more diverse, subjective and elusive than that.

Sexuality is a great example. Some people are attracted to members of the opposite sex, others to people of the same sex and some people aren’t particularly sexual beings at all. And within these divisions (and others) there are a multitude of other preferences for various sources of pleasure. A virtuous hedonism, as opposed to a self-deluded one, takes all of this into account.

When I worked at a deli in Norwood during the early years of this decade, there was this repeat customer who really got on my nerves. She was the stereotypical pretty girl that supposedly all the guys like. While she was in some respects a nice young lady (she was also at times a very noisy neighbour) and capable of eliciting quite a bit of sympathy from me, I actually found her quite sexually repugnant.

Aside from not being attracted to her that way (I find living stereotypes of all sorts rather unappealing), she quite unwittingly had the body language of someone who took entitlement (to men) for granted – cornering me rather aggressively a few times and otherwise not giving me my space, this annoying, incessant crotch-staring habit and the occasional but rather obvious barging in between me and other females. So when eventually I objected (which in terms of workplace sexual harassment I felt I was rather entitled to do – the crotch-staring was a bit much), she couldn’t quite get her head around the notion that I didn’t find her attractive and had to (self-deludedly) contort things to fit her narrative of men finding her attractive.

Suffice to say it ended with acrimony*. Reminds me of how Ayn Rand went off the deep end when she found out that her lover Nathaniel Branden, found the younger Patrecia Scott more attractive.

Sometimes people just don’t find you sufficiently attractive. It doesn’t matter to them that you find you attractive.

It’s like that with food and drink, music and the visual arts (and more.) A virtuous hedonism is permissive of peculiarity while seeing suffering as the only true perversion of the human condition.

Unaffected atheists clearly have an advantage over theists in accessing this virtuous hedonism, not carrying the same metaphysical baggage (i.e. sin.) Not that a theist necessarily can’t, nor do so easily – at best they fall superficially short of the same ease atheists can achieve the more superficial the differences in ethics become.

The same may not be true for a number of ex-fundamentalist theist, atheists. Not that I’ve ever had the experience of a religious enculturation, but I’m convinced by the tales of people who are still influenced by the spectre of hell even after refuting its existence.

All I’ve ever been able to rebel against in religion is the socio-political privilege it seeks and often attains (which I suspect is more obvious the less your religious enculturation), religion has never had that kind of control over me. I suspect though, that rebellion is still the answer.

Conservative Catholicism is particularly guilty of reducing atheism to rebellion against God, while at the same time finding their imaginary hell insufficiently harmful, venturing to create it on Earth through all sorts of insane sexual restrictions. Atheism isn’t rebellion, but rebellion against religiously motivated suffering is probably quite healthy behaviour for affected ex-theist atheists (and probably for newly moderate theists as well.)

Really, you are coming from a pretty sick place if you can find fault in people wanting to keep the Pope’s (or anyone else’s) liver-spotted hands off their genitals.

A virtuous, life-affirming quest to find and give pleasure is one of those things I think atheists need to give serious consideration before they check out of this fleeting existence.

~ Bruce

* In all fairness though, I think through my creative, generous and then mutating bakkheia, more than a couple of women (and at least one guy) got the impression that I was attracted to them when I wasn’t. This and a fair amount of beating around the bush not wanting to tell people the straight-out awful truth that I don’t actually like them that much, probably served to confuse the situation.