Trigger warning: I wrote this when my mental self-monitor diagnosed that I was moderately unwell. It includes description of my depressive episodes. It also includes monumental pomposity.
I am an old, white, straight, ‘normal’ male.
Sometimes I am a dark, bleak, inward-facing entity, immobile for safety of self and society in a tiny hole that encompasses my small and smaller life. Sometimes I lie in a semi-doze idly evaluating the likely effect of the coefficient of friction and the architecture of knots on the efficiency of a noose. Sometimes the bare routines of hygiene and nutrition are olympic tasks. The effort of existing overwhelming. The only resonance of my ‘soul’ echoes Kipling’s famous inscription of neo-Victorian clichéd masculinity (and misogyny):
“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone.
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them, ‘Hold on!'”
Mostly, I am a chameleon. Adapting to my social setting to blend in as the expected jovial, mildly ascerbic pseudo-intellectual old parent and ex-teacher. I use the ‘auto-pilot’ in varying degrees to meet expectation whilst viewing my performance with commensurate degrees of detachment; sometimes with that sabotaging internal monologue that becomes strong enough at times as to feel schitzophrenic. I automaton my way through existence, successfully making a perfect portrait of ‘normal’ life. I am a real-life virtual impressionist in the minds of those I meet. They can’t see the velvet-black curtains that are drawn a crack for their benefit: they see the show on the stage of their perception. It keeps us all comfortable.
Mostly, they don’t see me at all. Solitude holds no fears for me. It is less tiring, freer, safer, calmer. Nature is my medicine (alongside SSRI), evolutionary artistry my inspiration for awe. I used to experience it through hillwalking and soaring, now through walking and bird-watching. I have been withdrawing from society through enforced and voluntary change, an evolution which is curiously beautiful and bleak, lovely and lethal: the “sweet and sour” of the soul. I am not busy. The reward of retirement comes with the bill of semi-isolation to be exploited by the introvert to relinquish the exhibition of gregariousness.
More rarely, I relax. I bask in the glow of joy. I feel the rush of motivation of projects to progress, immerse myself in the intricacies of their completion and make plans for my future. Plans. Big plans. New plans. Ephemeral plans, whispy, gossamer-threaded twists of possibility that will not survive the day. Fantasy plans. The episodes of impermanent serenity merely serve to illustrate their absence in the monotony of life’s passage; the mental metronome unbalanced in its swinging.
As I have developed this variety of realities my mind becomes more distrustful of any. What *is* my reality? Is it illness or perspicacity? My self monitor grows slowly more independent: less trustful of its mental host. We are all me, but we watches we closely, to estimate the degree of warp in perspectives that influence my reality. Am I mad? sad? bad? Reality becomes difficult to grasp when it writhes fluidly among its clones.
I function. Invisibly wrestling with my own mind whilst exercising the privileges and responsibilities of a home owner, a neighbour, an Attorney for a vulnerable Mother, a driver, a taxpayer, a voter, a campaigner, a father, a friend. I hide the conflict and camouflage the distress. No-one knows. Nearly no-one. My best friend and ex-partner guesses. Usually accurately. She has saved me in the past. A new friend far away also sometimes guesses. I admit when I am ill if these friends ask. I would admit the same if most aquaintancies asked. They don’t. I fool them. All the time. They are too busy to look closely, too separate to comfortably enquire as to my sanity. They should.
So what is the point of this pretentious, florid confessional, liberally seasoned with alliteration and polysyllabic words to give a parody of intellectual insight? To ostentatiously proclaim my wisdom? To seek sympathy for an invisible torment? To manipulate my image for some obscure design?
The urge to write here has always had the same origins: clarifying my thoughts through inscription, raging at my frustrations (the fatigue of being ‘normal’ is the worst frustration) and pompously offering ‘advice’ or ‘information’ as if I ever had some special insight. (Patently ridiculous). It is also a product of emotional turmoil, sometimes darkly venting the inky blackness onto an imaginary page.
But there is always a message. This message is about the complete futility of sharing those numbers, of saying “its ok not to be ok”, its fucking not I assure you. The pointlessness of saying “its good to talk” to someone engaging in mental maskirovka. The pure redundancy of platitudes. I used to think “tired of living” was an amusing cliché, not a condition of life. But it is. The overwhelming effort of ‘being normal’ really wears one down. So how can you save a ‘tortured soul’? The answer is above.
Look for your friends. Where are they? What are they like? Are they fading away? Are they angry and irrationally irritable? Are they unaccountably emotional? Silent? Strained? Watch them in the unguarded moment when the mask is eased, is it them or a familiar role play? Know them, feel them, watch them. Call them and ask them.
If they are “fine”, they’re not. If they are “Ok”, they may be close to ‘Ko’. Ask again. Then see them.
Ask twice. And listen. Carefully.
You can catch them.
I hope you do. At least once.