Tuesday, 23 December 2014

No Christmas Markets

What we were met with was not assembly
But aftermath
The carcass spread out, shaking itself
Life the man under the lamp.
People were no longer shaken
By the hand or the offering
Of stall-desperate suffering
No longer fed with formations of colour
It is not snow  that is flaking
But yesterday’s imagery.
A handprint reaches out
From a coffee-cup cast aside
In the morning, the plastic
Strengthens the spine
Of the monstrous
The city is porous
The top-later still  dries
To the feet in the chorus.
What came before us
Was known as culture

-          Why? 

Monday, 22 December 2014

Making a Metaphor: Animals and Understanding

A Preface
This is an article on the language sued to discuss mental illness and its understanding – inshttp://www.elefriends.org.uk/ - organised by the Mental Health Charity Mind. Elefriends not only involves an animal metaphor, the focus of this article, but also emphasizes the importance of a supportive and strong community to discuss mental health. I would certainly recommend a look! I guess I can  look at depression a little like looking at an elephant – it may scare me in its unfamiliarity, but it is not something I would want to harm. What I want to do is understand it.
pired by my visit to the website
And therefore my reflection on:

Making a Metaphor

The simplicity of the phrase ‘making it’ is something I so often strive for, when reflecting upon it.
Depression may leave you feeling that anything you ‘make’, if it all, is a mess. And in turn, to climb out if the clutter can be the easy part – to look at the apparent order and synchrony of people around you, their assumed ever-arranged social events, self-security and smile. It can be a transition from an accumulating chaos to an icy isolation in the space of couple of minutes – to feel the fated futility of your life to then look at the apparent ease of someone else’s.

But not only is this potentially illusory, but not necessarily any closer to ‘making it’.
The process of ‘making’ occurs endlessly, at what could be considered a much more accessible level – nature.

At a most basic level, even on a bad day, the birds still sing. Rain may bead and shine on the branch before it falls to the floor. In the sensations and moments of suspension it offers, nature at this level expects nothing back. Often lost is contemporary culture is the comfort of simply appreciating nature for a  moment. Nature too can terrify, can compress, as can anything; The wind can feel agitated and overbearing, the rain relentless, we may well acknowledge certain creatures with fear and phobias.
But the sun rising still ‘makes’ the morning. Looking out of the window to the trees in the field opposite I know that amidst the branches starlings have ‘made’ nests from mere twigs and moss that has fallen.

Nature makes the day, not depression.

To take a perhaps more domestic example, how many people do I know who confess that their dog or cat has made their day? A great number, especially considering the return from university to home. When we embrace nature and animals, we embrace life.

Of course, not all of life is or feels good –  for example the experiences ,many have to deal with in terms of mental illness. Yet this leads me to my point of ‘making’, metaphors and nature.  Not only can nature ‘make’  different sensations, but also can ‘make’ something of mental illness. Take the metaphor of the ‘black dog’ – often used to discuss depression, as seen in just one example in the form of the website: http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/. This website interestingly also advocates the approach to mental illness of ‘doing what comes naturally’ – apparently emphasizing the importance of turning to nature rather than turning away from it even when we may feel like it is human futility which is at fault.

The dog metaphor is furthered in T.H White’s allusion to  mental illness in ‘The Once and Future King’ -  ‘Learn why the world wags and what wags it.’ If we consider the movements of the world like the wag of a dogs tail, it is potentially part of a process of seeing engaging with the world as requiring a relationship of trust and patience in order to be productive. Ultimately, We use animal metaphors for mental illness as they make it accessible; Kate Chopin in her short stories describes the outlook of depression as ‘humanity like worms struggling blindly toward inevitable annihilation.’ Yet we know that worms, no matter how much they may repulse on observation,  can be great natural good – tilling the soil, allowing for new growth.

Perhaps that is why animal metaphors can be so useful within mental health, in discussing conditions like depression – it is not desirable to ‘kill’ depression. To approach depression with an attitude of ‘killing it’ or ‘fighting it’ is ultimately inhumane. After all, I am a vegetarian, and the association of mental illness with animal metaphors would seem somewhat bizarre if this was my aim. But on a further note, mental illness is by its nature so very frightening and even alien – like a wild animal – because it affects the mind, leaving the individual in fear of what is themselves, and what is the illness. Thus, it cannot be a case of killing.

I would not want to kill a dog, although it may have the potential to be vicious, because there is also the possibility of interacting with it and learning to love it. Stephen Fry furthers animal analogies and metaphors in a recent Guardian Article in terms of mental illness being the ‘Elephant in the Room’ http://www.theguardian.com/society/christmas-charity-appeal-2014-blog/2014/dec/05/-sp-elefriends-the-social-network-for-the-mental-health-community – in which he highlights how depression can feel like a looming creature, but a creature that we can learn to love and want to be understood, in its own way.

In turn, it is important to approach mental health issues according to their nature – and aim then not to ‘kill’ them, but to understand them. It is ultimately through understanding and interaction that mental illness can be brought under effective control for many. Therefore, I welcome attempts to increase accessibility to mental health services and discussion through new formats – such as animal metaphors, pictures even comic strips. These highlight that mental illness lives just as we live.  But what ‘makes’ us who we are is how we understand and deal with it.

Baiting the bear

It entered the room
Long before I can remember
I knew its muzzle  between my ankles
Begging bits from the table.
I supposed it was sponsored to keep me young

Like the toy of childhood
Grasped in the fixtures of sleep
The glass eyes glazed over
With a rasp of fingernails.
Felt like a braille
Even in dreams
Bear substituted the mind-blindness
Swallowed the screams

As I grew
Bear hollowed
As I learned to speak
Stitched through my voice
Was not the growl
But the teeth
Which clipped short the words
A fur on the cheeks
Others called moisture

She has a wild imagination
You better watch her

But the bear watched me
The draw of translucent claws
On laminate
A futile domesticity
Like the wildcat kittens
Which still savaged the scientists.
The bear yet
Smiled, learned to listen
An imitator, still vicious.

Its black mass would wait
On the edge of my vision
Its fur asking for embrace
Of those same fingers
Nails different
Bitten down, picked
Too many times. The bear sleeps
In the doorway of the morning
I think of a white spotty rind
Fat festering porous, beneath
A pelt inches thick.
Its stench bitter
Left in the rain too long

I thought I had grown
But its tongue still sickens me
With its black layer
Lapping up imagery
Frozen-fear in a quick glance.
When I reached for the switch
Its smile dripped on my hands

You are just a child

The bear’s breath encrusted
A silt to each eyelash
Coming closer to the bed
Shaking itself into speech.
I used to ward it off with a laugh
Now it takes all week
For it to return to the doorway.
These are the walls of my nursery
This is the rattle of silence.

I wake to find
The bears jaw in my hands
Like a lifted receiver
I could put to my ear and sob
Into that stinking glut
Of darkness and stomach
Fizzing bloodless my foot
Somewhere under its front.
Its muzzle presses my shoulder
And falls down my spine
Like the hair of the woman
I could have grown into
Given the time

My hands glisten at the keys
The bear bristles
As I write
Its snout lifts from my shoulder
Stares out of the window
A reflection moulded, I share
On screen or in picture
Which asks if it offers

A feasible future. 

Sunday, 21 December 2014

I Did Not Succeed in the Semester

Finishing for Christmas is often the long-anticipated reward at the end of the year. As a student, the course from September has often been studded to satiate along the way – the stresses of essays, the ‘yesses’ of social events, an amalgamation of positive and negative people often pile together and summarise as a ‘student experience’. I have certainly sampled it.

There is a difference however, between ‘sampling’ and ‘tasting’. These are definitions I perhaps should have revisited being an English student. But student or not, it is easy to watch. Grazing passively upon the colours and imagery of people filling themselves with the ‘student experience’ ‘life experience’, each, either. The trait returns even now as I sift through Facebook, social media, feeding on the facades of other peoples happiness.

Life lectures us with the ideals of being – full, in abundance, blossoming.  Yet so often in reality, ideals are reduced to a stab in the stomach and a taste bitter with anticipation.

Rather than  feeling satisfied with myself at university,  I became host to a  disturbing hunger – spurned by chocolate-box fineness of glossy prospectuses, the rich, flowing voices promising contact, the layer after layer of leagues and societies.  There was something within that whole richness which terrified me, turned not only my stomach, so to speak, but my thoughts, inwards.

Perhaps it would be the desirable thing to say I have expanded at university. But I haven’t. At university I retreated further and further into routines of my own invention, entertained obsessions,  became preoccupied with a mounts and timings  in attempt not to fuel aspirations but out of fear for the underlying emptiness that was every day affirming itself.

And then emptiness curdled to guilt. A guilt which began, and then grates, and grates, and grates away. At first I watched my skin shine in the mirror, and attempted to convince myself that this was part of the abundance I had been taught to aim for. Only it wasn’t. I became a combination of bonework and sinew, offering myself up to an ever-growing hunger. A consuming circle of self-hatred and yet ambition stirring itself, leading not only to peaks, but also to collapse.

And that, amidst the metaphors of eating and hunger, is what has happened.  I watched myself move from nature to mechanical -  impulses slowly frozen as if hoping to be  preserved for some better picture. I have become selfish, silenced, angry – at the mercy  of a mind which oft feels half-mechanistic, as if something has started to set in there.  For fuel underlies both food and machinery when regarding the ultimate subject of this article – the mind, and ultimately, its afflictions. For this, I guess, is an argument with depression, depression and all its guises – whether in self-discipline or selfishness, stuffing meals and scratches – it always strived to swirl itself into something else.

It is the oft-asked aside – ‘Come on, pull yourself together, what’s eating you?’.

It has been the long, slow, sick realisation that what has been eating me, and eats away at so many others, often unidentified, is depression.

Call it with as many metaphors as you like – a machine, a black dog, a bloody great hole. For so long I have attempted to feed it with academia, obsessions, the scrabbled security of restricted eating. I convinced myself that  this was sufficient.

But depression does not settle for sufficiency. It stares out of your eyes and what is tells you is ‘success’ and questions, scraping its sharp nails down the minds tabula rasa – ‘why can’t you be like that?’ ‘Why can’t you be like that?’.  It is efficient, much more efficient than I ever was –  a tailor, stitching a cold layer of isolation between you and every other person you look upon. If we continue the food metaphor, it is a chef, serving up life like a tar. I retch when I have not eaten anything for hours.

It assumes so many different identities I scrape desperately for some form of escapism – ashamed by the empty hours I spin through other people’s lives, social media, newspaper headlines I look upon but cannot absorb. I look upon the hands which type and wonder what I have become. I feel sorry for the apparent selfishness, the silences, the self-isolation I have presented people with.

I am sorry that I could not write this perhaps more efficiently.

But I am not sorry that it is here to be read. I used to be able to write articles quickly, enthused with an energy. This has taken me days – even stringing sentences together seem flat and formless.  Flat is how I feel when I look upon not only the inflated ambitions I for so long strived for, but when I look around me at the creature which is Christmas – when we are expected to want and to wield. It would be more straight-forward to say I do not want anything, I could roll back into my isolation, close my eyes and attempt to entertain the silence.

But silence never happens. And want never stops, in a way. It is oft the case that ‘want’ is demonised, dished out as a sin  in the moral meals served up by societal doctrine. But everyday too I see people driven by a want to help others, to help themselves – and not necessarily negative.

And I too want. If that is the ‘human’ part of me left, then let it. I want people to know of depression, know that it exists and that that people do not have to feel alone in facing it.

For too long now I have failed to face it – both metaphorically and concerning brutal honesty. I painted a healthy face over my own which showed life in all the right places. I spent the anticipated hours studying, pouring over texts written to reel the mind over. I felt the pressure when the function of the mind, both in discussion, and on paper, becomes the means of evaluation.

And depression smiled as it splintered, spreading through everything.

I didn’t hit the high marks in the essays.  I didn’t volunteer for charity. I didn’t give my time effectively. I didn’t deal with the exams as I should have done. . I didn’t fit the concepts of ‘success’ I had for so long faced myself with.

Instead I became isolated and afraid. I still am afraid.

But they are perhaps two conclusive things of this article – want and fear. They still exist, they still strike up beneath that sour staleness of everything affirming, that ‘I’ can still feel something for myself. A want for people to understand. A fear that people won’t.

And it is my aim, over the Christmas break, and New Year, that others too, should want to understand mental illness, and fear ignorance towards it. For people to understand that they are not alone, and to face the fear of the perceived loneliness of standing up and saying something about it.

Every day I am going to attempt to share something, whether it is something I have seen, or perhaps written, that shows a want to continue. Ultimately, the terms I have long aimed for – happiness, success, achievement – are subjective, slim. But I am attempting to shift weight to a want to show what depression can be, but also what the individual can be.

I want to show that it does not have to consume everything.

I too want to taste something different.

“Depression is boring, I think
and I would do better to make
some soup and light up the cave.”

― Anne Sexton