Books and darkness: For sufferers of depression and anxiety.

FOR MY READERSHP, ABOUT THIS POST: It begins a little serious, but the last half is a bit more fun to read. Skim read the first section, if you want, although I think it contains very important information. Just read it.

Dear diary,

Hi, this is Garant. Hope you guys are sleeping well, because I’m not. I’m writing this at 3:30 in the morning. I’m not meaning to blame anyone, whoever and wherever they are. It is, firstly, no-one’s fault if they are sleeping soundly and, secondly, just something I have been unable to do for a couple of years now and, thirdly, a choice. I choose not to tryto sleep because I just think, well, I’m awake now, I might as well get up and do something productive, like scribbling in a notebook, rather than tossing and turning.

I first learned about how painful it was to toss and turn way back in the days of adolescence when I had bad knees. As a result of growing pains (no, I’m not referring to my brother and sisters), the fifteen year old me would often wake in the middle of the night, with knee joints feeling like they were ready to burst the skin. It’s a hard feeling to describe, now that I can hardly remember it. If I get another go around in this merry circus called life, I would like to remind any future me to alwayskeep a diary because it sure would make writing about the past easier. I usually caught up on sleep in late afternoon physics when I was in attendance or whatever other subject I found particularly EXCITING. Economics, anyone?

A more painful experience with sleeplessness occurred when I was in the heavy grip of severe depression as a 20 year old. Unable to sleep at night, my mind would flip flop around in the dark with a single theme-“new and exciting ways to die.” This is often called suicidal ideation. If you have never experienced this, I hope you would never have to. If you are currently experiencing it, there is help out there. First port of call on the literary front would be a book called “How I stayed alive when was my brain was trying to kill me.” (That is a real book and, actually, a very good one.)

You might also read books like “Feeling Good” by David Burns or “Undoing Depression” by Richard O’Connor. You might even try a bit of old fashioned religion and read something like “Dark Night of the Soul” by St John of the Cross .(That one is a bit heavy, though.) Or try some basic Buddhism 101 which describes how pain and suffering is just, well, part of life for all of us. Hell, you might even read the Bible, which talks about the pain and suffering of God himself, as epitomised by the life of Christ. If you don’t believe in it, at all, or are not sure what to make of it, you can just read it as a myth. You can do that, you know.

There are also lots of great memoirs out there. My personal favorite is a book called “The Noonday Demon”, by a guy named Andrew Solomon. This lovely book describes his own battles with depression, as well as those of others, and gives a lot of excellent information on how he and others have gotten better. Back when I was really angsty and grungy, I really appreciated “Prozac Nation” by Elizabeth Wurtzel. I thought I had problems! Most famously, there is“Darkness Visible” by William Styron, although I haven’t read that one.

You might also benefit from some of the newer, sort of spiritual, therapeutic literature. “The Happiness Trap”, “Radical Acceptance”and stuff by Jon Kabat Zinn are all pretty great, IMHO. A book that really did help me is a book called “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by a hero of mine called Thich Nhat Hanh. A Vietnamese Buddhist monk, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr. He was also really good friends with a guy named Thomas Merton, for all of you Catholics out there. The book itself is an exceedingly gentle introduction to meditation. What I love most about that man is the sense of inner peace that he seems to live within. He really is just a person that you couldn’t imagine hurting anyone.

More recently, I’ve been benefitting greatly by a book called “Into the Silent Land”, which is about contemplative prayer. Some of the books on the Jesus Prayer are really wonderful, especially, I think, that by a man called Simon Barrington Ward. I know some of the religious folk out there would probably find my list a little too eclectic. That’s okay. I’m sure there’s the right way for you, too. Please don’t get too heavily into all of the “demon possession” stuff, though. I think it can be dangerous for other people, but I don’t know everything.

There’s a lot out there worth reading, if you really need to know. But it can be difficult when you have self-limiting beliefs and physiological limitations like problems with attention., which seem to go together like fists in a glove. This can be an issue with therapy itself.

WHEW. All of the heavy stuff is out of the way. Now, I can tell some funny stories. I used to argue with my first therapist a bit like this. (To be fair, I wasn’t the best client. Is that what they’re still calling them these days?)

Therapist: “What’s bothering you these days?”

Grant: “For a start, I can’t read.”

Then, he would say, “Why do you say, “I can’t read”.

I would say, “I never finish books.”

He would say, “Haven’t you ever finished a book? Not even one.”

I’d say, “Does “Hitting Across the Line” by Viv Richards count? My father doesn’t think so.”

Therapist: “Oh, your father doesn’t think so?”

Me: “No, my father doesn’t think so. He told me so. He told me they weren’t proper books.”

“He said they weren’t proper books, did he?”

“No, he said they were boring books, and I was a boring person for reading them.”

“Oh, that’s interesting.”

“C’mon, man. I thought you were supposed to be the therapist. Aren’t we supposed to focus.”

“Sorry, that’s right. Where were we?”

“I said, I can’t read books.”

“That’s right. Grant, listen to me very carefully here. Why do you think you say you can’t read books.”

“We already did that one. I told you I don’t mean I can’t read books. I never finish them.”

“So what was the last book you finished?”

“Shit, man. I can’t bloody remember.”

So here’s some other stuff to do before you die. Therapy. Sometimes it’s useful. Sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes it’s less effective. It comes in all different shapes and sizes. Some of it is good. Some of it is less so. But looked at long and hard enough, looked at a little askew, it can actually be quite entertaining.

Next up PART 2: HOW THERAPY COULD HAVE WORKED

I (A ) would have sat me (B) down with a copy of Dr Seuss and said “What’s this?”  The 21 year old me (B) would have said, “It’s a children’s book.”  (A) Can you read this?  (B) I’m not bloody reading that.  It’s fricking Dr Seuss.  (A) Do you mind if I do?  (B) Sure go ahead.  Whatever floats your boat.  (A) Before I do, can I say one thing I like about you? Tears would have come to my eyes.(B) NO-one likes me man, you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.  I don’t even like me.  (A) Well, I don’t exactly think you’re perfect.  You’re pretty difficult sometimes-but, yeah, I do like you.  Do you know why?  (B) Why?  Why do you like me?  (A) I like you because you’re smart.  You feel stupid right now because you have depression and your medication is playing hacky sack with your attention.  But you are smart.  How many people can say, “ I won the Westpac Maths Prize and came second in the state chess championship.”  You must be pretty smart.  (B) But that stuff doesn’t matter.  I’ll never be as smart as my brother.  (A) Let’s leave all of that behind, just for today.  But can I do something different?  (B) All right, what do you think we’re supposed to do now?  How does this shit make me feel any different?  (A) You think you can’t read.  I think I can read.  I think you are smarter than I will ever be.  (B) Bullshit.  (A) Seriously, I do.  I got credits in the Westpac maths competition and all through University.I’m not a high distinction kind of guy.(B) Okay, so?  (A) If I can read this, you can read this, too.  Because I like this book.  This guy’s a genius with language.  You can’t read some of those other book because some of those books are boring.  Here’s a little secret.  A lot of books you’re trying to read might not be any good.  But this book is called“The Cat in the Hat”.  I promise you, I will put my hat on and I will make you laugh.”Now you can take the other one home.That’s your homework.  And we’re going to start writing later.  Nothing difficult, just

TODAY

I did…………………………………………………………………….

I felt…………………………………………………………………….

I went to………………………………………………………………..

I thought it was……………………………………………………….

I want to………………………………………………………………..

WHEN I WAS A KID, I liked…………………………………………

…………………………………………………………………………….

RIGHT NOW, I need…………………………………………………….. 

And right now, I’m going to write down one sentence.  This is the keeper for today’s lesson.  “You can read but you don’t have to.”  And one more: This one is for you “If I want to I can read “The Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss.”  And then the therapist would give me (B) the book in my hands, and say “Good luck. Is there anything else you need to talk about today, or are we okay for right now.”And I (B) would walk out feeling better about the world and therapy itself. 

DEBRIEFING

But therapy was never really like that.  But it could be for you.  Do the reading thing, though.  I highly recommend it.  Try “Cat’s Cradle” by Vonnegut.  It will rock your world.

With much love, from Grant.

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