“Now I saw in my dream that… they drew near to a very miry slough that was in the midst of the plain; and they being heedless, did both fall suddenly into the bog. The name of the slough was “Despond.” Here, therefore, they wallowed for a time, being grievously bedaubed with the dirt… because of the burden that was on his back, began to sink in the mire.”
— John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress
The Slough of Despond is a nasty, miserable bog of guilt that sucks people in and is almost impossible to escape. In The Pilgrim’s Progress it’s an allegory for sin but I think it can be more accurately described as Depression. Yes, capital-D, clinically-diagnosable Depression.
Knowing someone stuck in the Slough of Despond can be difficult, draining, and generally lead to depression itself. I know this because I am scandalously intimate with the Slough. It’s my Unhappy Place. I’ve lived with it since I was 8 years old.
Continue reading “The Slough of Despond”
Where does freedom begin?
With the absence of fear. Where, despite the void or because of it there is a river of potential heretofore unnavigable, unknown. The water rushes and sings grey-green off the mountain dragging down moss, old bones, bees, poison hemlock. You never learned how to swim but the best part about being free? No one will push you into the water. Come and sit on this boulder in the dappled sun and let your toes get a feel for the snowmelt water rushing past and let the cosmic radiation burn the rot of stagnation right off your back. It’ll hurt a little but you’ll be better for it. Sit a while and talk. Stretch and take up all the space you never could before. Take up all the space you need.
Only my mother would consider the postictal phase of a seizure melodramatic. Only my mother would take herself out for ice cream on my birthday. Alone. Only my mother could consider consider an aversion to peanut skins overwhelmingly depressing. Only my mother.
There’s a concept in learning and conditioning called variable-ratio scheduling wherein the number of responses required to obtain a reward changes at random. It’s used most-recognizably in slot machines. Coin-greasy fingers slipping against buttons and touch screens under flashing lights and C-major chords beneath mirrored ceilings. Generic galaxies spinning beneath their feet. Blacked out windows. Not a clock in sight. With variable-ratio scheduling there the gambler will stay, suspended in their own perception of time and space, until they run out of money or some stronger stimulus comes along to distract them. Casinos do their damnedest to ensure that there is no stronger stimulus; cocktail waitresses are beautiful but unobtrusive providing everything from liquor to food to ashtrays and would you look at that? The ledge between the slots is the perfect size to hold all of it and a cup for more change (in the few places that still pay out cash rather than vouchers).
My mother is on a variable-ratio schedule. Most interactions are neutral or they are postictal disasters. But once in a blue moon I’ll win something large or small and that is enough to keep me coming back– one more hand, one more penny, one more roll of the dice.
Everything smells like blood. I can’t tell if it’s my body or if everything actually smells like blood. I’ve been taking rat poison so long, walking the tight rope of “just enough to keep me from dying”.
I would like to stop taking it.
I would like to wake up without tasting iron.
I would like to finish a novel.
I would like to be left alone with a one-bedroom apartment, a good night’s sleep, broken eggshells with no remorse, no more thinking in fours.
I would like to shrug off shame with the same ease with which I curse the bad angle of a door swinging shut. “Shit. That’s fine. I didn’t need those knuckles anyway.”
If wishes were horses beggars would ride.
Fortunately for bitter English proverbs today my locus of control is more internal than external and I’ve got an idea.
The Introvert Girl Gang is the first place anyone ever told me that running away is easier if you’re already going somewhere. This was something experience taught me but I’d never heard it said before and I almost cried at how much it explained. This was why I shrank at the thought of vacations. This was why I hadn’t applied to more than one college — because that might mean not leaving but having to return home. Not that that’d made much difference. I went to college anyway. I ran away anyway.
A slow study in pressure. How much travel could I handle, how long could home escalate before I decided no more. It happened slow, bordering on silent, smothering magma-hot and black until I could see no horizon.
The summer I visited Mo is a blur.
Brian had been worse than ever and I had been living in a fog of flashbacks and ash. Nightmares about my teeth splitting apart in my mouth, falling flat against my rotting tongue followed me into the morning. I could always smell him and taste him and hear him breathing. Even at night the house wouldn’t quiet.
I visited Mo. I had nothing to lose.
Her mother was compassionate and rough and waited with me through panic and had no patience for my pretending at spinelessness. Her laugh was a balm for my nerves. She did not flinch at cutting away those dead things that no longer served a purpose. She was kind.
I simply could not leave again. The perfect excuse to carve out a place where I could breathe fresh air and madness and rain and remember that there is nothing quite like volcanic soil and rot for growing things.
It’s easier to run away when you’re already going somewhere. It’s easier to stay gone once you’ve planted something there.
I’ve been avoiding writing this because it’s far easier to focus on the grand and the melodramatic than to write about what’s really eating me, what’s always eating me, what’s been eating me for as long as human memory can fathom human life (human memory, according to current research, begins around age 3).
Continue reading “anatomy of a flashback”